Thursday, 30 de May de 2024 ISSN 1519-7670 - Ano 24 - nº 1289

How we broke the NSA story

Shortly after Salon’s biographical sketch on Laura Poitras went live, the award-winning documentary filmmaker agreed to a phone interview, her first since she helped reveal the scope of the National Security Agency’s digital surveillance. “I feel a certain need to be cautious about not wanting to do the work for the government,” she told Salon, but agreed to clarify some parts of her role in the story.

Poitras is still in Hong Kong, where she is filming the story behind the story — including her co-author on the Guardian story and former Salon columnist Glenn Greenwald — for her forthcoming documentary on whistle-blowers and leaks. In a wide-ranging interview, she explained how she first made contact with Snowden, her reaction to the possible future investigation into his leaks, and why Snowden didn’t go to the New York Times. What follows is a lightly edited transcript.

So how did this all begin?

I was originally contacted in January, anonymously.

By Edward Snowden?

Well, I didn’t know who it was.

What was the format?

Via email. It said, I want to get your encryption key and let’s get on a secure channel.

And he didn’t say what it was about?

He just said — that was the first, and the second was, I have some information in the intelligence community, and it won’t be a waste of your time.

Do you get a lot of those kinds of requests?

No, I don’t.

Did you immediately know what was the best, most secure protocol to go about it?

I actually did. I have a lot of experience because I’ve been working with — as you note in your thing, I’ve done filming with WikiLeaks, I know Jacob Appelbaum. I already had encryption keys but what he was asking for was beyond what I was using in terms of security and anonymity.

How did it proceed from there?

So that’s where I’m not going into a lot of details, but sort of ongoing correspondence. I didn’t know, I didn’t have any biographical details or where he worked, had no idea. He made claims and said he had documentation. At that point it was all completely theoretical, but I had a feeling it was legit.

Why do you think he contacted you? Were you the first person he contacted?

I can’t speak for him. Glenn and I just touched base about, what was your story, because we connected later in the spring. He, I think, got an email in February. But I didn’t know he’d gotten an email.

He told me he’d contacted me because my border harassment meant that I’d been a person who had been selected. To be selected –and he went through a whole litany of things — means that everything you do, every friend you have, every purchase you make, every street you cross means you’re being watched. “You probably don’t like how this system works, I think you can tell the story.” … Of course I was suspicious, I worried that it was entrapment, it’s crazy, all the normal responses you have to someone reaching out making, claims. He said he’d seen a piece that I’d done on Bill Binney in the Times.

I can say from conversations I had with him after that, I think he had a suspicion of mainstream media. And particularly what happened with the New York Times and the warrantless wiretapping story, which as we know was shelved for a year. So he expressed that to me but I think also in his choices of who he contacted. I didn’t know he was reaching out to Glenn at that point.

And you and Glenn were already colleagues, right, you sit on a board together?

At that point the foundation had just opened. So we knew each other and we were colleagues and friends.

How did it get to the point where you knew it was going to be a story, and how did you decide where it was going to be published?

Those are the details I’m not going to go into. What I can say is that once I had a few pieces of correspondence, I said, let me ask a couple of people about this, people who have experience, and I sat down with a couple of people, one of whom was Bart Gellman … and he said, it looks like this person could be legit. And that was probably February.

These disputes that have been played out on the internet about who got in touch with whom and who needed assurances –

In a situation like this, this is a confidential source and has been until very, very recently, actually has been a person whose identity I did not know. To actually go on the record and talk about — it seems to be a violation of a lot of relationships with someone who’s trusted you. There’s partly that, so I’ve been hesitant. I’ve asked, you know, like, Bart, don’t go try and tell my story. I’ll tell my story, you know, about my reporting. I don’t need reporters reporting on my reporting. So maybe that stuff contributed to different timelines. But that seems now — I’m not quite sure, what makes the most sense. Because I don’t want to tell the whole story now, I don’t think it’s the right time. And I want to tell it in my own words. I’m a storyteller. I’ll tell it when I’m ready to tell it, in detail.

But it makes sense to go on the record to explain why I was attached to both of those stories.

So you ended up getting in touch with Bart and Glenn because you wanted their help to vet the claims in documents?

There weren’t documents yet … I wanted to know if this correspondent — it was possible something else would be entrapment or just crazy, that’s always an option. I had an instinct that it was legit. I wanted to talk to people who knew.

So then they said, my paper would be happy to publish it?

No, it was just colleagues saying, this was happening, what do you think. There was nothing to — it was just somebody wanting to start a conversation and claiming to have information … There was no material at that point.

So how did it then become two separate stories in the Washington Post and the Guardian?

The source also has a relationship with Glenn. Which I can’t speak to.

I know that Glenn said he had more stories to come. Do you have more footage you’re planning on using in your documentary?

Of course. I’m here working.

Are you still in touch with him?

I’m not going to comment on that.

Do you know where he is?

Not going to comment.

Are you going to be working on more stories in print before your documentary comes out?

I really can’t predict.

Are you going to be sticking around Hong Kong for awhile or do you think you’ll come to the U.S.?

I haven’t decided. I’m trying to figure that out right now. But I’m actually based right now outside the U.S.

Are you worried about retaliation in any investigation that goes forward?

You know what? I’m not. I’ve been harassed for a long time, I wouldn’t be surprised if that continues. Being here and seeing the kind of — actually, Glenn was really inspiring. Really incredible courage in journalism and just saying, we need to talk to him about these things. It’s not OK that we have a secret court that has secret interpretations of secret laws; what kind of democracy is that? I felt like, this is a fight worth having. If there’s fallout, if there’s blowback, I would absolutely do it again, because I think this information should be public. Whatever part I had in helping to do that I think is a service.

People take risks. And I’m not the one who’s taking the most in this case.

And you feel like the person who is taking the most risk — meaning Snowden — is aware of all the possible ramifications of it?

You can see it in the video, right? I think he is. I think he wanted to reveal his identity because he didn’t want to create a situation where he was anonymous and everyone would have been investigated. In these investigation cases, there are repercussions for many, many people. I think he wanted to take responsibility.

Did he always plan to reveal his identity?

I don’t know. At some point I became aware of that but I don’t know what his intention was.

It’s this complicated situation because we have a source who decided to reveal himself. I still feel like I have journalistic obligations to the source even though they’ve made that choice … There’s something that Glenn said that I actually want to contradict. He said we began “working with” him. There was no working with. We were contacted. It was totally cold contact.

Since he contacted you before he started working at Booz Allen, the implication people were drawing was that he went to Booz Allen with the express intention of leaking this.

That’s completely absurd. I had no dialogue about what the information was — there were claims, that’s all I received.

So the implication that you sent him into Booz Allen to spy was incorrect.

Are you kidding? I didn’t know where he worked, I didn’t know he was NSA, I didn’t know how — nothing. There was no like, Oh do you think you …, no nudging. It’s like the crazy correlations that the NSA does. There’s no connection here. We were contacted, we didn’t know what he was up to, and at some point he came forward with documents.

 

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Blogger, With Focus on Surveillance, Is at Center of a Debate

Por Noam Cohen e Leslie Kaufman [The New York Times, 7/6/13]

After writing intensely, even obsessively, for years about government surveillance and the prosecution of journalists, Glenn Greenwald has suddenly put himself directly at the intersection of those two issues, and perhaps in the cross hairs of federal prosecutors.

Late Wednesday, Mr. Greenwald, a lawyer and longtime blogger, published an article in the British newspaper The Guardian about the existence of a top-secret court order allowing the National Security Agency to monitor millions of telephone logs. The article, which included a link to the order, is expected to attract an investigation from the Justice Department, which has aggressively pursued leakers.

On Thursday night, he followed up with an article written with a Guardian reporter, Ewen MacAskill, that exposed an N.S.A. program, Prism, that has gathered information from the nation’s largest Internet companies going back nearly six years.

“The N.S.A. is kind of the crown jewel in government secrecy. I expect them to react even more extremely,” Mr. Greenwald said in a telephone interview. He said that he had been advised by lawyer friends that “he should be worried,” but he had decided that “what I am doing is exactly what the Constitution is about and I am not worried about it.”

Being at the center of a debate is a comfortable place for Mr. Greenwald, 46, who came to mainstream journalism through his own blog, which he started in 2005. Before that he was a lawyer, including working 18 months at the high-powered New York firm Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz, where he represented large corporate clients.

“I approach my journalism as a litigator,” he said. “People say things, you assume they are lying, and dig for documents to prove it.”

Mr. Greenwald’s writings at The Guardian — and before that, for Salon and on his own blog — can resemble a legal brief, with a list of points, extended arguments and detailed references and links. As Andrew Sullivan, a frequent sparring partner and sometime ally, put it, “once you get into a debate with him, it can be hard to get the last word.”

While Mr. Greenwald notes that he often conducts interviews and breaks news in his columns, he describes himself as an activist and an advocate. But with this leak about the extremely confidential legal apparatus supporting the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, he has lifted the veil on some of the government’s most closely held secrets.

The leak, he said, came from “a reader of mine” who was comfortable working with him. The source, Mr. Greenwald said, “knew the views that I had and had an expectation of how I would display them.”

Mr. Greenwald’s experience as a journalist is unusual, not because of his clear opinions but because he has rarely had to report to an editor. He began his blog Unclaimed Territory in 2005 after the news of warrantless surveillance under the Bush administration. When his blog was picked up by Salon, said Kerry Lauerman, the magazine’s departing editor in chief, Salon agreed that Mr. Greenwald would have direct access to their computer system so that he could publish his blog posts himself without an editor seeing them first if he so chose.

“It basically is unheard of, but I never lost a moment of sleep over it,” Mr. Lauerman said. “He is incredibly scrupulous in the way a lawyer would be — really, really careful.”

The same independence has carried over at The Guardian, though Mr. Greenwald said that for an article like the one about the N.S.A. letter he agreed that the paper should be able to edit it. Because he has often argued in defense of Bradley Manning, the army private who was charged as the WikiLeaks source, he said he considered publishing the story on his own, and not for The Guardian, to assert that the protections owed a journalist should not require the imprimatur of an established publisher.

Mr. Greenwald said he has had to get up to speed in the security precautions that are expected from a reporter covering national security matters, including installing encrypted instant chat and e-mail programs.

“I am borderline illiterate on these matters, but I had somebody who is really well-regarded actually come and physically do my whole computer,” he said.

That computer is in Brazil, where Mr. Greenwald spends most of his time and lives with his partner, who cannot emigrate to the United States because the federal government does not recognize same-sex marriages as a basis for residency applications.

Mr. Greenwald grew up in Lauderdale Lakes, Fla., feeling like an odd figure. “I do think political posture is driven by your personality, your relationship with authority, how comfortable are you in your life,” he said. “When you grow up gay, you are not part of the system, it forces you to evaluate: ‘Is it me, or is the system bad?’ ”

By the time Mr. Greenwald was studying law at New York University, “he was always passionate about constitutional issues and issues of equal justice and equal treatment,” said Jennifer Bailey, now an immigration lawyer with a nonprofit organization in Maine, who shared a tiny apartment with Mr. Greenwald in the early 1990s.

She emphasized that his passion did not translate into partisanship. “He is not a categorizeable guy,” Ms. Bailey said. “He was not someone who played party politics. He was very deep into the issues and how it must come out. He was tireless and relentless about pursuing this. Nobody worked longer hours.”

As Mr. Greenwald tells it, the last decade has been a slow political awakening. “When 9/11 happened, I thought Bush was doing a good job,” he said. “I was sucking up uncritically what was in the air.”

His writing has made him a frequent target from ideological foes who accuse him of excusing terrorism or making false comparisons between, for example, Western governments’ drone strikes, and terrorist attacks like the one in Boston.

Gabriel Schoenfeld, a national security expert and senior fellow at the Hudson Institute who is often on the opposite ends of issues from Mr. Greenwald, called him, “a highly professional apologist for any kind of anti-Americanism no matter how extreme.”

Mr. Sullivan wrote in an e-mail: “I think he has little grip on what it actually means to govern a country or run a war. He’s a purist in a way that, in my view, constrains the sophistication of his work.”

Ms. Bailey has a slightly different take. Because of his passions, she said, “he is just as willing to make enemies of anybody.”